By: Ben Horowitz, The Star Ledger
As the number of Holocaust survivors continues to dwindle, leaders in the Jewish community and their friends are looking for new ways to ensure the Nazi genocide during World War II is not forgotten.
One idea that has started catching on in the past year or two is the Holocaust Seder, a hands-on, participatory, round-the-table service inspired by the traditional Passover Seder.
This afternoon, starting at 2:30 p.m., what will apparently be New Jersey’s first-ever Holocaust Seder will take place at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in the Whippany section of Hanover.
More than 150 people – Jews and non-Jews, including an Evangelical congregation from Livingston — are expected to participate in the newly written, interfaith service that will include readings and poetry in English along with live music, singing, dancing and a festive meal.
“We wanted to create an alternate ritual of commemoration,” said Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council for the Whippany-based Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, which covers the counties of Essex, Morris, Sussex and Union, along with part of Somerset.
“Our survivors felt that after the survivors are gone, people will stop having these events,” said Wind, who will be leading the event along with Rabbi Len Levin of South Orange.
There are now just 1,600 Holocaust survivors left in New Jersey, compared with 5,000 five years ago, said Paul Winkler, executive director of the state Commission on Holocaust Education.
Thus, Holocaust education is now in a “transition period” between direct survivors and their children and grandchildren, who are starting to tell the stories, Winkler said.
“We’re very pleased to see an activity like this,” said Winkler, who will be attending today. “It brings in more than history, facts and figures. It presents the Holocaust in a variety of ways to get students involved.”
Winkler said teachers will be attending the event and “will bring it back to the classroom.”
The Passover Seder commemorates the biblical exodus of Jews from slavery in Egypt into “the promised land.” Today’s Holocaust Seder has a parallel, because it will celebrate the liberation of Jews from Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War II, something that also took place in May, Wind said.
Wind said the Holocaust Seder is not intended to be a religious ritual, nor is it creating a new holiday.
Rather, she said, it’s a way to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to focus on an example of a genocide, the mass killing of an entire ethnic, religious or racial group, an evil that must be prevented.
Citing genocides that have occurred since World War II – including those in Cambodia, Darfur and Rwanda – Wind said, “The ongoing genocides are just a lesson that it hasn’t gone away at all. We really need to be cognizant of what the issues are, so we don’t repeat them.”
“It’s about becoming active participants in a democracy,” she added.
Wind and others have created a special Holocaust Haggadah – based on the prayer and song book used for Passover Seders — with passages such as one listing the mass social events that precede all genocides: dehumanization, organization, polarization and preparation.
Wind acknowledges she drew some inspiration from a book by two authors from Montreal that was published last year, “The Third Seder: A Haggadah for Yom HaShoah,” or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Although today’s event in Whippany does not coincide with Yom HaShoah, the book serves as a guide to remembering the Holocaust in a Seder and illustrates a rising international movement.
“We felt it was too important an event in history to just shrug it off,” Wind said.